You may notice that some sections have little bits of information left out, but I felt it best to keep it simple, and I didn't want this post to be any longer than it needed to be (without doing a half-assed job). I wasn't trying to cover "every" aspect or tool of practicing magick, or even all of what I know, but rather set some guidelines and show some examples to help get the aspiring practitioner on his or her way.
(On another note: I've read my favorite occult books more than one time, some of them more than 5 or 10 times. With that said, it's extremely hard for me to be completely original when it comes to teaching. To be honest, I don't like teaching much, but I've been tired of seeing random beginners on this website get less than adequate answers/suggestions pertaining to "where they should start." This is all in my own words, but I'm in no way the person who "discovered" these methods. Just a practitioner who's read some useful information and successfully incorporated it into his practice - that's willing to share it with others for the sake of putting them on the right track. I borrowed (or stole.. :P) the whole "hands on approach" from the book, "Hands-On Chaos Magic" by Andrieh Vitimus. It was a great book that helped me out a lot a few years back, and I still refer to it today if there's something that I feel I'm forgetting, or a skill I'd like to polish up. It was a great idea on his part, and I felt that it was the way to go here. That was one of the books I read more times than I can remember, much of the information that I may have gotten from that book probably sounds "regurgi-typed." Either way, all of my other references "should" be stated along the way. Enjoy.)
Many beginners often ask people where to start, and get little more than a pat on the head and a smile. They tell you to meditate, or to learn how to center yourself. Some one or two lined answer that does nothing but leave you with more questions, and only covers a small fraction of what you need to work on. Hopefully, I'll be able to help with that here. (Just about all of these skills aren't just for "beginners," but can be improved and adapted for many situations as you raise yourself into adepthood. Feel free to create your own styles and ways of doing the things that follow, and just think of this as a guideline to send you on your way, or a box of new toys to add to your magickal arsenal.)
Before we go any further we need to understand what's commonly referred to as the "psychic sensor." The psychic sensor is that part of your mind that tells you there's no way magick can exist. That part of your mind that makes you doubt in your ability (to use magick). The part of your mind that's been programmed to think this way since you were born. Most Americans think this way, and with many, it can be extremely hard (if not impossible) to correct. For those who cannot accept and believe in not only yourself, but magick as a whole, you will find no success. There are many different names for the psychic censor, and it's going to be a little different for everyone. Some people have an easier or harder time accepting or believing things that they "know" or truly believe to be false or impossible. I'm in no way saying that "anything is possible," because that's not true. The same can be said for the opposite. Believing in things that aren't possible can be just as harmful to your spiritual development as believing that magick isn't possible at all.
In order to work magick we must first work on ourselves. In my opinion, that's where you start. Why learn the techniques needed to use magick if our minds and bodies lack the necessary discipline? You'll accomplish nothing more than "hoping what you just visualized worked" without having really manifested anything. There's a big difference between hoping and searching desperately for some sign that your ritual or spell worked, and knowing with every fiber of your being that it will certainly come to pass.
We have to balance the elements within ourselves in order to perform our workings successfully. Less cigarettes, or none for that matter. Cigarettes can really affect your magick. (It has mine. I had to cut down tremendously in order to perform my breathing techniques without struggle.) Breaking any addictions is a great way to strengthen your will power, and initiate yourself into your practice. It's not fun, but you need to try as hard as you can to suppress any counterproductive behavior. Simple "no" exercises can be effective if your will to learn magick is strong enough. In example: If you want a cigarette, tell yourself "no," and don't smoke one. I'm not saying quit cold turkey, just exercise not smoking one when you normally would as often as you can. (This also works for any other addictions or bad habits you might have.)
Fasting a certain day out of the week can also be a help. (Some rituals actually call for fasting a number of days before the rite.) Fasting, when one normally wouldn't, is typically hard to do (especially if you have a refrigerator full of food, or you're not used to doing it), thus making it a good willpower building technique. (For those asking themselves "What the hell is fasting?" It means not eating anything at all for the entire day. Some religions/beliefs allow certain foods to be eaten, but to me, that defeats the whole purpose of testing and improving your will.)
You also need to learn to control your emotions. Being angry or brooding all of the time isn't going to help you spiritually. (Quite the opposite.) Neither is being depressed, or completely hyperactive for that matter. You need to find balance, and try to remain there. (I'm not in any way saying that you have to suppress all human emotion, I'm just saying do not let any emotions rule your life.)
Now to a more practical approach.. Every weathered magician has their own metaphorical "bag of tricks." The bag of tricks I refer to is the arsenal of trance generating and/or mind-state altering techniques that the magician will use to perform Operations. There are too many for me to name here, so I'll cover what I can and leave the rest to your research and imagination.
When working magick, breath is a tool. There are several different methods of controlled breathing, and each method can have different effects on your body, mind, or even your mood. Find a few styles of controlled breathing and write down what effects each have on you. Even the slightest change should be noted. I'm only going to list a couple here, but there are far more than this. Practice a breathing exercise as much as you can, until you're able to do them for extended periods of time without breaking the pattern.
Take a deep breath while inhaling for a count of four seconds, hold the breath for four seconds, and then exhale the breath for a count of four seconds. (I'm fairly certain this is a Bardon method.) Inhale with your back and stomach, also called "breathing with your diaphragm." When you inhale, breathe in until you can feel the pressure on your back. When you exhale, push it out using your stomach.
Reverse Chi Breathing
This is perhaps the hardest breathing style I've worked with, and takes a lot of practice to get used to. Instead of letting your diaphragm and stomach expand as you inhale, force it to contract. When you exhale, expand your diaphragm as far as you can. You should quickly notice that this method inverts your normal breathing process, thus making it feel kind of uncomfortable. (This is a method from Chinese Qi Gong, and is supposed to force very large amounts of energy into the body.)
Various body positions can also have different effects on you. In example: sitting, standing, kneeling, or lying. Try out different postures while doing your breathing exercises or meditating. If any have an impact that you notice, write it down.
Multiple religions and magick systems use hand positions as gestures of power and/or for concentration. Being a Chaotian, I love the chance to put personal touches like this into my practice. I do know of some mudras used in religions, but creating your own is the way to go in my opinion. Just interlock and fold your hands and fingers in different positions until you find some that you like. (The real goal here is to find some that produce a specific state of mind, mood, etc..)
I have a hand position that I use while meditating, the aura and energy visualized with this mudra is orchid. I place all of my finger tips (including thumbs) together, no other parts of the hands touching but the tips. From this position I interlock my ring fingers. This mudra just feels natural to me, it's calming and allows me to collect myself, so I use it in basic meditation exercises.
I also have another mudra that I use for performing the dark arts and energy exercises that cause me to tap into my own darkness or shadow. I interlock my pinky fingers, my ring fingers, and my thumbs, with my index fingers and middle fingers standing straight up against each other. The aura and energy color that I visualize is crimson.
Obviously those two mudras are personal to myself, and may have little to no effect on someone else who tries to use them in the same way. You should work on developing your own styles, writing down their effects, and applying them in your practice wherever you can.
Meditation works wonders. I recommend meditating anywhere between one to three times a day. (Acknowledging the fact that many people have tight schedules, and sometimes it's hard to fit three meditation sessions in every day.) Many people practice different visualizations while meditating for various reasons, often to clear their mind and center themselves, or to develop their astral senses in different ways. (Most forms of Hermetics have several ritual meditations, I recommend familiarizing yourself with as many of them as you can, even if only to reference them.) Once again, it pays to be creative and experiment. Obviously my meditation exercises are going to be personal to me, as I've demonstrated with the Mudras. I'll give a couple of examples of simple meditation visualizations that I practice whenever I get the chance.
(I do recommend having some knowledge of energy manipulation before attempting these exercises or they'll have little to no effect. I talk about energy manipulation a bit further ahead, so it may be best to scroll down and get familiar with that first before trying either of these.)
This technique is the Kabbala's "middle pillar exercise." The only thing I've changed is the use of a mudra and the color of the energy. (I've also left out the Hebraic orations and a few other personal touches in order to keep it simple.) Using the first mudra I mentioned, I stand straight up or sit with my legs crossed and visualize a warm stream or pillar of beautiful purple (orchid to be specific) energy of light flowing down onto my body from above.
As my entire body is now consumed in the light, I begin to pull it down through my body and into the ground between my feet. When it's being pulled through me and into the ground, I feel the warmth of the light as it passes through me, and see it sinking into the ground below. (The middle pillar exercise calls for doing this visualization step for a count of five breaths, and I adhere to that as well.)
Next, I pull the energy back up from the ground, keeping it between my feet in the center of my body, and visualize it swirling around my aura. I bring the energy up through my head and split it into two streams, one that forms the left half - and one that forms the right half of the circle of swirling energy around me. The two streams of energy connect underneath of my feet and and enter the center of my body - traveling upward through my body and head, then back into their individual streams. (This visualization should also be done for five breaths.)
The exercise takes about two minutes, and has a wide range of purposes including aura cleansing and preparing for astral projection. If done three times a day for two weeks, you can greatly increase your energy level. The more you use these meditations the more you get better at visualizing and feeling the energy that you're working with as well, so try it out.
The second visualization I got from an E. A. Koetting book called Evoking Eternity. It's to invoke omnipotence. (Invoking omnipotence is pretty much prepping yourself to do any ritual, letting in energy and allowing you to slip into that God-like mind-state so that you may act as a God does. )
Set a chair in the center of your meditation space facing north. Sitting straight up, close your eyes, and wait about 30 seconds to acclimate. As you take a deep breath, pay attention to your breathing, and notice your breath entering and exiting your lungs and chest. (Breath with your diaphragm, and hold the breath for a second before exhaling.) As you exhale, feel your body slipping into a state of relaxation.
Once your attention is entirely fixated on your breathing, stop noticing your body, and begin to notice your environment. At this point your eyes can be either open or closed, whichever is easiest for you to visualize. Do not focus on any specific object(s) in the room, simply notice the air around you. Try to maintain your breathing pattern of deeply inhaling, holding that breath for a second or two, and exhaling - while continuing to notice the air around you. As you're doing this, begin to feel yourself connecting to your environment with each breath, being filled with the air around you, and then giving it back.
Now begin to visualize particles of air around you. With your mind's eye, see them dancing around the room with ease, not heading in any specific direction or having any particular pattern, just existing in the air around you.
Still visualizing the dancing air particles all around the room, begin to see them slowly start to glow with light, as if they were absorbing it directly from the sun or whatever other light that may be in (or shining into) the room. See the light sparking from them as if they were microscopic prisms.
At this point your mind may try to interrupt your visualization, most likely due to the vast amount of glowing particles floating around you. You may try to stare at one in particular, or a group of them, but don't allow yourself to do this, as it may hinder or break your concentration. Simply allow your awareness of the particles to spread throughout the room as you look around. Know and sense that what is happening around you, even if your eyes and mind try to convince you otherwise.
As you view the tiny particles of light surrounding you, you'll start to notice that they're more than just molecules of air. Notice them beginning to glow much brighter, as if a million tiny suns were surrounding you. Relax your eyes and mind, allow the image to become clear to you, clear enough that even though your senses cannot perceive it, your mind has no doubt that it's real. Soon after, the visualization should seem to consume the air around you, as if the room were aglow from wall to wall with the warm light. Whether your senses are able to perceive it or not, at this point you must know without a doubt that this is a real occurrence, and not just some visualization.
Open yourself up to the light that fills the room. By "open yourself up," I mean feel it with your inner senses. Feel the warmth of the light. Feel it's glow pulsing through the air. Hear it humming or softly buzzing. As you begin to connect with the light around you on a personal, emotional, or intuitive level, begin to recognize and understand it's purity.
Close your eyes and continue to feel the warmth of the energy, continue to hear the soft humming or buzzing, and begin to search deeper into the nature of the light. Know that it is the light of creation, healing, and life. Feel the power radiating from them; the power of creation, and of destruction. Let these sensations runs through you until you begin to notice the light with a certain familiarity and awe.
Inhale, and notice that that the air sweeping toward you is also bringing with it the omnipotent particles of light, as the air has become the light. At this point, some people may begin to feel exhausted, or just lose concentration altogether. It's very important that you do not allow yourself to doze off or "zone out." This is your brain's natural reaction to an occurrence beyond the physical plane.
Breathe in the light, feeling the warmth and power as it fills your mouth and throat. Instead of feeling it heading to and filling your lungs, feel it filling your entire torso. Feel the light tingling inside of you, warm and glowing. As you exhale, rather than letting out the light that you have inside of you, release any negative emotions, worries, or guilt that you may be holding onto. (These things can build up inside of you, and you need to release them if you're to become omnipotent.) Visualize this negativity energy as a brown oily mist that seeps out from your mouth, or a thick black smoke that drifts from your mouth as you exhale. The pure light that fills that room will not be disturbed or harmed by this, but will absorb and dissipate the unpleasant energy the second that it leaves your mouth.
Repeat the inhalation of spiritual light, allowing it to heal you breath by breath, restoring you to prime health. Feel it restoring your skin, tissue, organs, and your inner self. Notice that no matter how much light you take into your body, the light in the room around you does not diminish, but is a seemingly infinite source of power and light.
Once you feel that you're completely filled with light (to the point where you can't take in any more), begin to focus on the light inside of you. Feel the light glowing, warming the inside of your torso, feel it pulsing and bursting through your skin - not wanting to be trapped inside of you. Feel your skin tingling as the light begins to spread from you. While the light is spreading from your body, begin to visualize it as an expanding aura of fiery brilliance that's emanating from you, the center of light.
Now pull your focus to your chest, and begin to feel the light pushing it's way out from that area, beaming from your heart like and endless fountain of love. Bring your hands to your sides with your palms facing up, and allow your fingers to curve inwards naturally. Begin to visualize the light now spreading outward from your hands, waiting to be directed at your goal.
Once you're certain that the emanating light is no longer just a visualization, but is an actual current coursing through your entire being, take a long and deep breath in. While you hold this breath in for a moment, establish an appreciation for the divine grandeur of the light within you. Know that it is vast, "all knowing," and ancient. The very power that created the universe, and the very same power that could destroy it. As you exhale, release your tension. Take another long and deep breath in, and reflect on the characteristics of the light within you once more.
This next part can get tricky for some people, as the psychic sensor will work hard against you. Recognize the power emanating from you, and your own innate power. Know that when you combine the two and command with absolute will, without the slightest bit of fear or doubt, that the whole of the universe would stir to answer you. You have to absolutely believe in the omnipotence of the emanating light.
Once the power and light are consciously connected to you, you'll likely feel the need to use it in some way. You must resist this urge no matter what it might be, as this divine energy should not be spent on trivial things. Close your eyes and allow your head to fall back onto your shoulders so that you're looking up at the ceiling, and let your mouth fall open. Relax your body, take a deep breath, and hold it in. Feel the light inside of you building up in your chest, and as you exhale, feel it rushing from your body and into the air. Repeat this step two more times, continuing to tilt your head back and release the light within you. (Make sure that you exhale completely, until your lungs are completely void of air.) This will often lead to extreme exhaustion. The objective here is to clear you of the light stored within, bringing the exercise to a close.
Koetting suggests doing this exercise at least a few times, once daily, and before each evocation you perform. (I'm not going to get into evocation here, but feel free to look it up. It is fairly advanced though, and only when the psychic censor is completely broken and the the astral senses are developed can one evoke successfully.) With each successful invocation of omnipotence, you should feel the overall process quickening, and your body becoming more and more comfortable containing such a divine force of energy.
(Obviously these examples are complex meditation rituals that involve energy manipulation. Meditation can be as simple or complex as you'd like it to be, but often clearing your mind while trying to focus on absolutely nothing - in order to completely calm and center yourself, is a great exercise to practice. It takes a lot of patience, but the more you practice the better you'll get. Frequent meditation (in that manner) can help you reach a deeper state of gnosis or trance and increase the speed of how long it takes you to enter it.)
Sensory Perception Enhancement
Our imagination serves as a wonderful tool to sharpen our sensory perception. This is because our minds do not know the different between what is real and what is imagined. (Go ahead and try it, it's true. You can easily use an imagined situation to generate any emotion.) The same neural pathways respond whether you're using a memory, a real situation, or an imagined one. I've done a lot of exercises with this, and it's a great way to build anchors. (I'll get into anchoring later.) Try generating a few different emotions using a memory, a real situation, or an imagined situation. Write down any that seem to work well, or that you could easily repeat. (You really shouldn't use negative emotions, especially when you're starting just starting out.
Most books on the occult assume that the reader has a visual modality. Meaning their preferred way of encoding information is likely to be through sight. Sight however, is only one sense, and magick can be worked through all of the senses. Any one sensory system (sight, hearing, taste, smell, and tactile senses) can be enhanced to serve us better in magick. You can easily figure out what your preferred modality is by simply looking at how you describe a given situation. If your sentence starts with "I see (whatever)," this usually indicates a visual modality. If your description is something like, "I hear (whatever)," then it's most likely an audio modality. (And so on..)
There are many exercises that can enhance your sensory perception, and even more that you could create yourself. A good sight exercise that I use often is to get into a relaxed state with your eyes closed and to simply pick an object or symbol, and stare at it (for as long as possible, or a set amount of time). Let any thoughts that pop into your head come and go naturally. Start off with small exercises (about 5 to 10 minutes) and work your way up to 30 minutes or more. This teaches mental control and focus, which are considered by some to be the most important part of ritual work (after relaxation).
A simple sound exercise can be practiced by entering a relaxed state with your eyes closed, and listening to a long, continuous sound. (Like a long-ringing bell, or even a tone generator.) Try it with multiple sounds, but one at a time. Think about the effects each sound has on you, and keep trying to improve the length you can focus on the sounds.
By now you can see how easy it is to come up with your own exercises for all of the senses. Apply the same rules of getting into a relaxed state with your eyes closed, breathing deeply, and allowing any thoughts that may pop into your mind (ultimately disrupting you) to come and go. You'll eventually notice the exercises getting easier, and the amount of time that you can focus will increase.
Learning how to isolate each sense and focus on a single sensation is also a useful technique for building up your imagination with that sense. Experience a sensation, then re-create the sensation in your mind. Try to hold the sensation in your mind for about 20 to 30 minutes.
Building Visual Imagination
Sit down in a comfortable position, relax, and begin to breathe deeply. Visualize a line in front of you, any length, width, or color that pleases you. Try to hold this line in your mind for as long as possible. After you can hold this line for about 30 minutes, try it with two lines. Once you can hold two lines, try it with three. (This really is a great exercise for building control and focus when it comes to visualizations.) As always, make sure you record your results so you can see how you're making progress. Give yourself some time though, don't expect to see excellent results right away. Visualization isn't everyone's preferred modality, but it is something that you need to work on either way.
Anchoring is another useful skill to hone. Any bit of sensory information (whether it be scent, taste, a gesture, physical pain, physical pleasure, etc.) can be trained to re-create a state of mind. Let's say I got cut on the arm while drinking wine. After that, the taste of the wine (or even the smell) would trigger the pain in my arm to come rushing back (or at least the memory). For particularly traumatic or emotionally distressing events, you may not even remember the actual event that caused the anchor, which only produces a state of mind.
We actually have many more anchors than we know about. Sometimes when you're engaged in everyday activities, an anchor could trigger (due to it having similar surface details to an anchored past experience) and you'd have no idea why, or that you even triggered an anchor at all. This means that our subconscious mind can re-create a mental state without our conscious minds having to think about. When that happens, your mind will attempt to guard you, and will bring back the same emotional/intellectual effect. Therefore, any experiences you have can be anchored to any kind of symbol, gesture, word, or sensation to produce a different state of mind.
Unfortunately, I have many more anchors than I like. It's reasonable to say that in my time alive, I've gone through a lot of crap - to put it lightly. Why does that matter, you ask? Because the greater the impact of a personal experience, the greater the attachment of the anchor - and it's interference in your life. An anchor can stay with you for years if it's repeated enough, but even an unrepeated anchor with sufficient emotional impact can effect you greatly. Experimentation is the key. You should really stay away from negative emotions until you know exactly what you're doing, and the best personal way for you to "record" an anchor. But even then, you should still stay away from negative emotions. You could find your subconscious triggering that negative emotion out of context, and ruining your mood (or even having an impact on your social life and relationships). You should keep in mind that you're trying to separate anchors used for magickal Workings from your everyday activities. You should also keep in mind that everyday activities can also cause anchors, especially habits.
Use this knowledge to your advantage so that you can incorporate useful anchors into your practice. They can be used for anything, like tapping into a certain emotion that allows you to quickly raise energy, to allowing you to quickly slip into a "magickal mindset" or adopt a different persona.
Basic Energy Manipulation
To start off this little section on energy manipulation, I'm going to give another exercise from the book "Hands-On Chaos Magic" by Andrieh Vitimus. It'll help you learn how to feel the energy flowing from you.
Get into a relaxed position, and rub your hands together until you feel them start to tingle (in some way) and your palms turn red or pink. Then separate your hands until you can no longer feel them tingling. (How far you're able to separate them does not matter.) Record the exact feeling of the tingling sensation in your hands, how far you're able to separate them, and any other sensations you feel or impressions you get.
After practicing this a few times, begin to record the distance between your hands. Here is where you want to notice the flow of the energy. Recognizing your projecting hand and your receiving hand. You may notice that